RESIGNED ISLAMORADA MANAGER GETS $2,000 HOUSING ALLOWANCE AND OTHER BENEFITS THROUGH MARCH

Islamorada Councilman Buddy Pinder speaks. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Former Islamorada Village Manager Greg Oravec worked his final day on Jan. 27 following a surprising resignation announcement earlier in the month. While he’s no longer inside village hall, Oravec will continue to receive pay and benefits through March, per a separation agreement with the village that was approved at a recent council meeting.

A proposed separation agreement with Oravec approved by the dais on Jan. 27 includes salary and benefits through March 31. His annual salary was $169,500. 

He’ll receive unused vacation leave and accrued sick leave. He’ll also get a housing allowance, $2,000 per month, through March 31 that can be paid either through a lump sum or in a continuation of salary on a biweekly basis. 

The village will also pay the retirement contributions for the regular salary Oravec is receiving through March 31. 

Language within the agreement also states that Oravec and the village cannot make any public statements disparaging one another or in any way interfere with the village’s search for a new village manager and Oravec’s search for new employment.” 

Within his resignation letter, Oravec said he believed the dais would be better served by another village manager after reflecting on his last six months on the job. He was hired in June by the council following a search that initially saw some 80 candidates. His first day was July 1. 

Explaining his decision to council on Jan. 11, Oravec cited a lost appetite for the political dynamics that go with the job as part of the reasoning for his departure. In his letter, Oravec stated that his last day would be no later than March 31, but was open to negotiating alternate terms and timing. 

CONCERN OVER THE AGREEMENT

Chris Fletcher, 46-year resident of the Keys with human resources background, told the dais what they’re doling out to Oravec isn’t right, unless there was wrongdoing from the council and the village. 

“That’s not normal in employment law in Florida. That’s not right in government law,” he said. “Would you pay someone in your business that resigned for three months and pay their housing and their insurance after they told you they didn’t want the job?” 

Responding to public comments, Councilman David Webb said Oravec’s contract was made public in the lead up to its approval last June. Webb said it was something Oravec found “minimally acceptable.”

“If we want, in my opinion, anybody anywhere close to his caliber, we’ll have to do that or a little bit better,” Webb said. “The housing costs in the community are exorbitant. If you want an executive to come in and be chair of the board of your community, you’re not going to get it for 50 cents an hour.”

Following Webb’s comments, Fletcher proceeded to go to the microphone to provide additional thoughts before he was told there was no give-and-take. 

“This is our meeting and you’ve had your three minutes,” Webb said. 

The councilman went on to add that an “employee at will is in an extraordinary position of threat. Good luck with getting a local person in here who has the qualifications.”

Fletcher raised his hand and told the council that he’d offer to take the position.

“I do have the qualifications. I submit my name. I did not want to. I will submit and I will do the job for $80,000,” Fletcher said. 

Webb responded by stating that “my comment wasn’t directed at you.” 

Islamorada resident Charlotte Norris said she first met Oravec during interviews last spring. Describing him as “very bright,” and an “eager guy,” Norris said there’s far more to the separation agreement that she “will know and anyone in Islamorada will ever know.”

Webb said Oravec’s resignation was a reality of how difficult the job is and the challenges seen in Islamorada. And he noted that the town has a “horrible track record” with village managers staying for an average of less than two years.  

MARIA BASSETT IS BACK SERVING AS ACTING VILLAGE MANAGER

Following the council’s approval of the separation agreement, the dais unanimously supported a move to bring village Finance Director Maria Bassett back as the acting village manager. She served for several months between the resignation of Seth Lawless, former village manager,  and the hiring of Oravec. She’ll serve in the position until the council finds a permanent replacement.

Before giving his vote, Councilman Henry Rosenthal asked Bassett if she’ll continue her role as finance director. Bassett prefaced her response by stating that she wasn’t the only option to fill the role temporarily. She said an interim manager could be placed, but that would take some time. She said Colin Baenziger & Associates could also assist in that process. Bassett proceeded to say that she can fulfill her duties as finance director, just like she did before. 

Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett participates in the Jan. 27 meeting. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

“It’s very important that we have somebody that’s got the qualification, abilities and attitude that Maria has,” said Mayor Pete Bacheler. “We’re not going to find that some place else. It’s right here at our front door.”

Bassett will receive a pay increase of 15% with her now taking dual roles. She’ll now receive $151,600. She also requested to earn pension at a senior management level during this period of time. 

SEEKING THE NEXT VILLAGE MANAGER 

Following lengthy discussion, the village council agreed to put out a job posting for the village manager job with a salary range between $150,000 and $200,000. The village will reuse the hiring firm Colin Baenziger & Associates to assist in the process.

Before the decision, Village Attorney Roget Bryan told council members the village could re-engage the services of the hiring consultant to assist the village manager search at no cost. Bryan told council members they could conduct a full search that would take 90 days. Once the pick is made, it would take 45 days before that person starts. 

The dais also had the option to examine candidates the hiring firm already vetted for the Islamorada manager position or another city manager position. The selection process would take 30 days and a start date 30 days thereafter. 

Islamorada Councilman Henry Rosenthal speaks on the village manager search process. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Rosenthal said he was opposed to re-engaging Colin Baenziger & Associates. He said he’s in favor of bringing back a selection committee that picked then-manager Seth Lawless or exploring people in the county with government background.

“Part of the problem here is just the culture of the Keys in general. Unless you’re here for a while, and I’m saying not a couple years, you really don’t know what’s going on,” Rosenthal said. 

Within a recruitment brochure by Colin Baenziger & Associates, it states that change in the village council every two years “seems to contribute to a high turnover rate in the village manager position. The current village council is committed to changing that pattern and hiring a manager who will serve five to 10 years.”

Webb said community involvement is key with the village manager search underway again.

“There are thousands of people in this community of integrity and character. I have to believe that they want almost the same things that all of us want and that everybody in this gallery wants. They have to get involved. They can’t sit in their office dealing with their next client while we’re up here beating our brains out and staff is getting crucified for what we asked them to do.”

Interested applicants have until  Feb. 18 to apply for the village manager position. Further discussion on the search process will be seen at the Feb. 17 meeting of the council. Colin Baenziger said they hope to have a preliminary list of candidates for council consideration no later than March 31.

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.